So you’ve got the 50in plasma TV, the 5.1 Dolby Surround and a sofa big enough to seat a football team, but it’s just not the ultimate lounge setup without a media PC. While you can build a simple video playback system for comparatively little, chances are it’s not going to fit in with the rest of your high end AV kit, let alone the living room decor. Finding a suitably stylish HTPC chassis which combines looks with hardware flexibility is a daunting challenge.
Enter Moneual, a little known Korean chassis manufacturer specialising in HTPC cases that won’t look out of place beneath your telly or beside your amp. However, while the looks might be high class the price tag is too, so let’s take a closer look to see if Moneual’s top end chassis, the Moncaso 972, is worthy of its wallet melting price.
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Externally the Moncaso 972 is certainly a mean and moody looking bit of kit which wouldn’t look out of place alongside any number of amplifiers or component stereo equipment. The front fascia houses plenty of controls too, with a smattering of media centre control buttons, satisfying volume knob and the highlight of a 7in 15:9 touch screen LCD. We’ll go into more detail on the touch screen it’s features later, but suffice to say it looks great and has been very well integrated into the Moncaso’s design.
Wrapping up the beautifully studied front panel is a flip down panel which reveals the mic, headphone, Firewire and USB ports alongside a multi-format card reader and the open/close button for a 5.25in optical drive. The hatch itself has a wonderfully smooth movement thanks to hydraulic hinges, but we can’t help but feel the optical drive button’s placement is a little misguided though - changing a DVD or Blu-Ray will require you to flip down the hatch first.
A flip down panel hides ports and a memory card reader
The simple stylish looks on offer are hard to argue with though and are backed up with some seriously superb build quality too, easily comparably to Zalman and Lian Li's cases. The entire case is made of black anodised aluminium plate ((it’s also available in silver though) up to 5mm thick in places, with the result of making the Moncaso feel like aluminium elephant. It’s an extremely solid bit of kit, weighing over 7.5kg when empty and feeling extremely tough and hard wearing - qualities some aluminium cases can lack.
There is one slight let down for the 972’s build quality though in the form of the media centre compatible buttons fitted on the fascia’s top right. They’re insultingly clicky to the point of madness and feel disappointingly cheap – an unfortunate blemish on what is otherwise a very attractive and well put together exterior.
Looking to the 972’s side panels you can see they’re made of ribbed aluminium struts, with a solid plate behind forming the interior panelling. Into these are cut four ventilation holes, with an 80mm vent on either side towards the front allowing for HDD ventilation and the larger vents to the rear allowing airflow to the GPU on the left hand side and the PSU on the right. Other ventilation is offered in the form of twin sets of ventilation slits in case’s floor and matching slits in the case’s roof above where the CPU is fitted, although bafflingly only the HDD and GPU ventilation holes are fitted with dust filters.